I’m early, so I wander around the small shopping mall, because, you know, I’m English, and we don’t do early just as much as we don’t do late – well, not unless you’ve lived on island time for a few years at least.
The mall does not inspire. It is the familiar mix of tourist tat, but years of living in or close to tourist resorts have taught me that it’s as foolish to be snobbish about them as it is to confine oneself to their boundaries. And, to be honest, I’ve become a little blasé about traditional foods, and crave something “foreign.”
I’ve walked past the restaurant twice, and the aromas of oregano and garlic trail me as I make another circuit, until I can stand it no longer, and step over the threshold of Portobello a tad early.
I’m in Lanzarote for a week to work with Sands Beach Resort, and they have arranged for me to dine at Restaurant Portobello in Costa Teguise this night. I am to ask for Natty, short for Natividad, who is the owner.
The cosy restaurant is buzzing in a relaxed way, and I guess that the diminutive figure with the huge smile, talking animatedly with a group at one table is Natty. It is, and she turns her sparkling eyes and warm smile in my direction, and I know that I am in good hands.
I adore Italian food, and although Natty hails from Andalucia, she makes sure that the food coming out of her kitchen is prepared with the same love and passion that traditional Italian mommas put into their cooking, this much I have been told, so I ask what she recommends. She doesn’t hesitate. The meatballs are especially good tonight, so I order them, and the paté to start because it makes a point on the menu of stating that it’s homemade.
Good choices, the paté is tasty but smooth. It slides down like liquid. Then come the meatballs. When I see the steaming dish I wonder if the paté with all the toast was a good idea. The smells evoke memories of Italy, the herbs, the sunshine, the love of good food. La dolche vita. I halve a sphere, and pop it in my mouth. Zing. Every taste bud throbs in happiness. I spear the other half to make sure. Yep. I am in for a treat here. I consider figuring out what the ingredients are, but decide to simply let my senses take over and enjoy the moment. I eat slowly and savor every single mouthful. This is the secret of Italian cuisine, I think, to take something unpretentious and make it ambrosial.
As I eat, I watch as Natty glides from table to table, greeting people, advising, describing dishes; and the staff, one of whom is Natty’s son, who work together with that efficient familiarity which makes you think they’re telepathic. Afterwards I learn that the couple in the table in front of me have been every night for a week; another family have visited the restaurant several times, even though they sport the bracelets of an all-inclusive resort; and another group are locals who come regularly. I’m not surprised. I’d very much like to work my way through the menu.
What made Natty and her husband, who came to Lanzarote 36 years ago, (her children were born on the island) open an Italian restaurant? Their story, is one that resonates with a lot of us. 23 years ago, stressed and dissatisfied with the pace of life in the business world, they looked for an alternative, something about which they could be passionate, and saw the opportunity in offering something other than traditional Canarian fayre in the fledgling resort of Costa Teguise. committment to quality in both food and service rapidly gained them a good reputation, which only grew as the resort expanded and more restaurants opened. To stay the course that way speaks volumes in the restaurant industry, where fads and fashions come and go, or businesses become complacent. I asked how they were surviving Spain’s horrific recession, “La Crisis” as it is known (as if there has never been another). They managed by judicious pruning, but since 2012, they’ve seen much improvement, and have even taken on extra staff.
It’s a family affair, and it’s my belief that shows in the restaurant business. Walking into Portobello is something like walking into your favorite auntie’s house, where you are as welcome as the flowers in springtime, and spoiled – just the right amount.
1. Portobello doesn’t really (yet!) have a social media presence, so you just have to take my word for it! If you’re in Lanzarote you can find them at Commercial Center Las Cucharas in Costa Teguise. If you want to ring for a reservation it’s 928590241.
2. I am really, really sorry that my photos turned out badly apart from this one from my phone 😦 – hah! Need to go back to take more!
3. I was invited by Portobello to sample their menu, but you don’t honestly think I would rave about it like this if I didn’t mean it, do you?